Soccer-related concussions

Research looks at player collisions vs heading the ball

While the concussion hype focuses primarily around football, there’s also a lot of discussion about soccer-related head injuries. The soccer concussion debate centers around the question of whether or not a ban in youth soccer on heading the ball and other rule changes would impact the number of head injuries, particularly concussions.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Pediatrics shows that physical contact between players is the most common cause of soccer concussions. In that case, a change in soccer rules about using the head to hit the ball would likely have little effect on concussion rates.

This results of the study conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health were based on data collected from 100 high schools between 2005 and 2014. Researchers documented 627 concussions among girls and 442 among boys, which aligns with past findings that soccer is the second-leading cause of concussions for female high-school athletes and the fifth for boys.

Differing views

Better rule enforcement and continual re-emphasis on the technical skills of passing and dribbling make the game safer, according to the study’s author, Sarah Fields, an associate professor at the University of Colorado-Denver.  FIFA rules only allow for shoulder-to-shoulder contact among players, which Fields thinks should be more strictly enforced.

Not everyone thinks that minimizing rough play is the answer. One of those is Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurology professor at Boston University School of Medicine. Cantu says that most injuries to soccer players under his care that took place when heading the ball didn’t occur during intentionally rough plays. Instead, players were intent on heading the ball and collided with other players intent on the same thing or who got in the way.

While Cantu does not support eliminating heading the ball in soccer, he does recommend banning it for players under the age of 14, stating that’s the age level at most risk for concussion.

Another point in the ongoing debate is that even shoulder level contact can result in concussive forces, whether through direct contact or when a player subsequently hits the ground.

The number of football-related deaths and serious head injuries among high school players in recent years resulted in the concussion laws for all sports being enacted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

We encourage further reading of our articles on concussions.

Source: Amrith  Ramkumar, “Injury study spurs debate on soccer-related concussions.” 31 July 2015.